Sunday, 25 November 2007

What Has Happened To Our Schools?

I was looking through stacks of books in a school library recently, books that were for sale and I found, "An Introduction To Botany," by Priestley, Scott, Harrison. There are nearly 700 pages of information-rich text, with mostly line drawings and a few photographs. When I did A Level Botany, this was the kind of textbook I used. I know! This sounds like, "In my day bla bla," but in comparison, the modern textbooks look like comic books, with bite-sized chunks of text and comic book type illustrations, looking like someone's idea of how to illustrate a textbook for, "cool," young people.

It seems to me that education is now delivered in packets, like cook-chill food, nicely packaged and presented in meal-sized portions, delivered in the ubiquitous hand-out.

And when did we stop asking kids to copy notes, and to read a few books and start handing out reams of paper? I asked a year 10 class (around age 15) to copy two, not very long, paragraphs recently. "Do I have to write all that? Why Can't I just stick that in my book?" Because, dear child, if you write it out, you might remember some of it!

Seems to me that the internet has brought a revolution in information into the classroom. Kids now have access to such a wealth of information, but they want to copy and paste it, without reading or understanding a lot of time. Here's a nice chunk of information, I'll have that! Looking over a year 9 student's shoulder, reading research he was doing on protein in the diet, I read about, "long chain molecules." and, "peptide bonds." So, I asked what a molecule was! Don't know! Well, what's a, "peptide bond?" Don't know!

Every school, secondary and primary, in the UK, now has a reprographics department. When I see the stacks of paper sitting there and the ream upon ream that gets printed on every day, I can see where a load of that money is going that the Labour government has poured into education. The plastic chairs may be falling apart and the formica-covered tables are wobbling, but look at the lovely hand-outs!

And will somebody please tell me when it became OK to swear at teachers and for there to be no consequences? I think this must have been around the same time that it became OK for girls to turn up at school in lycra skirts that just cover the gluteus muscles, carrying their make-up and mobile phone in a cute little pink handbag, with no room for useful stuff like pencils, pens and rulers!

Laptops in classrooms could be an absolutely briliant addition to the resources for learning that teachers have to offer. Unfortunately, they are also a brilliant way for many young people to update their, My Space, Bebo, or Face Book sites, and communicate with their mates in chatrooms. Jeez! These kids think I don't know what a minimised page looks like! I am so sick of spending so much time saying, "Close that page." There must be better ways to use my time.

A lot of the time I feel like I'm doing crowd control, rather than what I trained to do, teach! If I have the same number of kids in the room at the end of a lesson as I had at the start, that's some kind of success! I haven't sent any to, "Isolation," and I haven't lost a few to join the so-called, "tourists," who roam the corridors.

I am having a jolly good rant today about this, but this is what working in a secondary school is like for many of us in the UK now. A colleague commented the other day that the only skill needed to work in many schools is the ability to cope with verbal abuse. If I was a waitress I'd have more rights! Anyone who came into my cafe and called me a, "stupid f*****g bitch," would be banned, yet, as a teacher, that's one of the milder insults!

And then there's the league tables! Exam results are shown to have been improving year-on-year! So, how come kids who can hardly string a sentence together in meaningful English are achieving a few GCSEs? I shall leave that question until another time.

Any sensible job offers that would take me away from all this are very welcome.

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